At the time of inscription of the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (TRHS) on the World Heritage List in July 2004, IUCN recommended that the property be simultaneously inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The World Heritage Committee, at its 28th session (Suzhou, 2004), noted the urgency of the ascertained threats to the property but due to the strong objection of the State Party of Indonesia to the inclusion on the Danger List, the Committee requested the State Party to prepare an emergency action plan focusing in particular on illegal logging, agricultural encroachments, proposed road development, securing international assistance and protection of critical habitat. This action plan was not submitted by the State Party as requested.
On 21 December 2004, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry submitted an international assistance request on the preparation of an integrated action plan for better protection and management of Sumatra Natural Heritage. IUCN and the World Heritage Centre commented on this request and the State Party was requested to reformulate the request for re-submission to the World Heritage Centre. Due to the Tsunami disaster of December 2004 that affected northern Sumatra, the State Party submitted another request for Emergency Assistance to support the rehabilitation of management facilities at the Gunung Leuser National Park. The Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee approved an amount of USD 66,600 for this project in July 2005, which is currently being implemented by the Indonesian authorities in collaboration with the UNESCO Office in Jakarta.
The World Heritage Committee, at its 29th session (Durban, 2005), requested the World Heritage Centre and IUCN to carry out a monitoring mission and report to the 30th session on the state of conservation of the property, the impacts of the Tsunami and progress with the proposed emergency action plan.
The IUCN-UNESCO mission was successfully carried out from 25 February to 5 March 2006. It found that all three National Park components of the serial World Heritage property continue to face serious threats. Notwithstanding some welcome improvements and positive changes since inscription on the World Heritage List, all areas are subject to a mounting series of on-going and imminent threats linked to agricultural encroachments, illegal logging, road construction (legal and illegal), and poaching. Not only are all of the protected areas being substantially encroached upon and losing habitat, they are also losing their forested surrounds to agriculture and industrial coffee and oil palm plantations.
Most indicators point towards quickening loss of biodiversity, particularly the larger mammals such as the elephant, tiger and rhinoceros. The capacity of management to effectively respond to and resolve critical situations has failed to keep pace with the mounting threats due to a range of institutional constraints, including funding constraints; inadequate cooperation and support from local, provincial and central government agencies, including in some cases law enforcement agencies; confusion over the rights of local government within national parks; and bureaucratic procedural constraints and inefficiencies. In addition, local communities and local government remain largely uninformed about the importance of and threats to World Heritage property, and are therefore often antagonistic.
Of all the major threats to the values and integrity of the property, growing unchallenged encroachment has the greatest potential for destruction. Mapping by the Wildlife Conservation Society shows that the cumulative loss of forest to encroachments within the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park is now in the order of 22.5% (86,000ha). The largest known encroachment in Gunung Leuser National Park is at least 16,000ha in an area previously recognized as critical elephant and prime tiger habitat.
The mission noted that notwithstanding a skilled and motivated leadership in the management regime of the property, the burden of effectively protecting and managing the World Heritage property in the face of overwhelming external threats is now beyond the current capacity of management. Failing an urgent and major management intervention by the State Party, the TRHS World Heritage property will remain critically endangered.
The most urgent intervention is required in Kerinci Seblat National Park, the largest and most critically threatened component of the property. This is illustrated by local government planning for construction of no less than 34 roads through the core zone of the park, recent illegal commencement of one such road and on-going illegal logging and encroachments. The rhinoceros, according to the Park authority, is on the verge of local extinction and the elephant population has been divided and ‘boxed in’ by topography and agriculture. Park management has in effect lost control of illegal encroachments by local farmers and does not presently have the capacity to respond to or press prosecutions, let alone establish other deterrents and conduct meaningful reforestation.
The major interventions necessary to remedy the deterioration in the state of conservation will require a combination of financial, institutional, government policy changes and on-ground initiatives. Failure on any one of these components will result in further deterioration of the value and integrity of each component area and hence the serial property as a whole.
If the outstanding universal values and integrity of the TRHS World Heritage property are to be maintained in the longer term, it is essential that a major intervention in protection and management is mounted as a matter of urgency.
Based on the findings of the IUCN-UNESCO monitoring mission, it is considered reasonable to expect within 3-4 years that there is evidence that:
a) An Emergency Action Planis completed, resourced and under implementation;
b) Sustainable programmes are in place to effectively control encroachment, illegal logging and road development, and to reforest areas previously affected by these activities, and there is a clear reduction in the percentage of the property subject to these threats;
c) The boundaries are amended to exclude major encroachments and include critical habitat; clearly marked, including signposting of World Heritage status; that park gazettal is completed; and park zoning plans are finalised, formally adopted and communicated to local government and stakeholders;
d) Effective governance is in place to ensure mechanisms for institutional coordination across the serial property, and that collaboration and participatory management regimes are in place;
e) Progress is made in establishing sustainable financing for the property and developing capacity for effective management; and
f) Effective wildlife monitoring and anti-poaching programmes are in place for the whole property and the associated Leuser Ecosystem to arrest the decline in populations of all wildlife species, especially of the Sumatran endemic taxa.
These benchmarks need to be reviewed during preparation of the Emergency Action Plan, and endorsed by the State Party and World Heritage Committee.